A verb is the grammatical entity that describes the subject of a sentence. A verb can describe either an action that the subject performs or the state (or condition) of the subject.
A verb is a word in a sentence that describes either an action by the subject of a sentence, or the subject itself. Therefore, the verb is often the most important word in understanding a sentence or a clause.
In Biblical Hebrew, the root of a verb consists of three consonants, sometimes called the tri-literal (meaning “three letters”) root. In “strong” verbs, the three root consonants always stay the same and are easy to recognize, but “weak” verbs have one or more consonants that disappear in certain forms.
Verbs in Biblical Hebrew change form according to both conjugation (Perfect, Imperfect, Infinitive Absolute, etc.) and stem formation (Niphal, Hiphil, etc.). Generally speaking, changes in verb forms happen by adding prefixes/suffixes, by changing the vowels, or both. These changes in form show the stem formation of a verb with its conjugation, which includes the person (first, second, or third), the gender (masculine or feminine), the number (singular or plural), and sometimes the state (absolute or construct). The person, gender, and number of a verb always agree with the subject.
Unlike English (but similar to other languages like Spanish), verbs in Biblical Hebrew do not require a separate personal pronoun if the subject is not identified; this is because the form of the verb itself includes the subject. A pronominal suffix attached to a verb can function as its object.
Finite verbs are verbs that have a subject and do not require any verbal complement to form a complete sentence. Their form shows tense as well as person and number. Biblical Hebrew has 7 finite verb forms: Perfect, Imperfect, Sequential Perfect, Sequential Imperfect, Imperative, Jussive, and Cohortative.
Properly speaking, non-finite verbs are verbal complements that require a finite verb to form a complete sentence. The non-finite verb forms in Biblical Hebrew include the Infinitive Absolute, the Infinitive Construct, and the participles (both active and passive). Non-finite verbs can sometimes describe an action or an event in such a way that the word functions like a noun.
In Biblical Hebrew, the non-finite verb forms are sometimes used as finite verbs, and the imperfect form is sometimes used as a non-finite verb.
Grammarians often distinguish between different types of verbs. When considering the best way to translate a sentence, it is helpful to understand what kind of verb is being used in any given instance.
Dynamic (or action) verbs¶
Dynamic verbs describe a subject performing an action. The subject is doing something.
|וַיָּשׁ֥וּבוּ הַמַּלְאָכִ֖ים אֵלָ֑יו|
|wayyashuvu hammal’akhim ‘elayw|
|And-they-returned the-messangers to-him|
|When the messengers returned to him|
|וַֽיהוָ֗ה הֵטִ֤יל רֽוּחַ־גְּדֹולָה֙ אֶל־הַיָּ֔ם|
|wayhwah hetil ruah-gedowlah ‘el-hayyam|
|And-Yahweh cast wind-great on-the-sea|
|But Yahweh sent out a great wind on the sea|
Stative (or non-action) verbs¶
Rather than describing a specific action, stative verbs describe the subject’s state of being (the way the subject is). The subject is not doing anything.
|וְעֵינֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ כָּבְד֣וּ מִזֹּ֔קֶן|
|we’ene yisra’el kovdu mizzoqen|
|And-the-eyes-of Israel were-heavy from-age|
|Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of his age|
|וַנְּהִ֤י בְעֵינֵ֨ינוּ֙ כַּֽחֲגָבִ֔ים|
|wannehi ve’enenu kahagavim|
|And-we-were in-our-eyes like-grashoppers|
|In our own sight we were like grasshoppers|
A transitive verb is a dynamic verb that requires an object that receives the verbal action. A sentence with a transitive verb is not complete without the object. Stative verbs are never transitive.
The phrase “And they lifted up” is unclear without an object. They lifted up…what?, for example:
|And they lifted up their voice|
|Then they lifted up their voices|
The phrase “[you must] keep” is unclear without an object. You must keep…what?, for example:
|keep my words|
An intransitive verb is a verb that does NOT require an object to receive the verbal action. A sentence with an intransitive verb is complete without an object. Dynamic verbs can be either transitive or intransitive, but stative verbs are always intransitive.
|וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה|
|wayyomer yehwah ‘el-mosheh|
|And-he-said Yahweh to_Moses|
|Then Yahweh said to Moses|
|וָֽאֶתְפַּֽלְלָ֛ה לַיהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהַ֖י|
|wa’ethpalelah layhwah ‘elohay|
|And-I-prayed to-Yahweh my-God|
|I prayed to Yahweh my God|
Helping verbs are extra verbs that “help” express the meaning of the main verb. Biblical Hebrew does not use helping verbs, but English does. Often, it is necessary to supply a helping verb in English to express the meaning of a Hebrew verb.
helping verbs in questions and negations¶
The following example in English adds the helping verb “have” (not present in the Hebrew text):
|What have you done?|
The following example in English adds the helping verb “did” (not present in the Hebrew text):
|and they did not stop them|
helping verbs to express possibility or desirability¶
English uses helping verbs to express varying degrees of possiblity or desirability of verbs. This includes a vast range from strong possibility (He **can* do this* or He **would* do this*) to weak possibility (He **might* do this* or He **could* do this*) or from strong desirability (He **should* do this* or *Let him do this*) to weak desirability (*May he do this* or He **wants* to do this*). In Biblical Hebrew, this sense of possibility or desirability is implied by the context and already present in the form of the verb itself.
The following examples in English add the helping verb “may” (not present in the Hebrew text):
|מִכֹּ֥ל עֵֽץ־הַגָּ֖ן אָכֹ֥ל תֹּאכֵֽל׃|
|mikkol ‘ets-haggan ‘akhol tokhel|
|from-every tree-of_the-garden eating you-eat|
|From every tree in the garden you may freely eat|
|so that an abundance of rainwater may cover you|